Oleg Fonarov is the founder and CEO of Program-Ace, a software engineering and digital transformation company.

What do brands like Tesla, Nike and Zara have in common? One of the biggest common denominators is their approach to selling items — with product configurators. A product configurator is normally understood to offer consumers a more personalized and free shopping experience, but it can do a lot more, too.

When we are asked by clients to build them a product configurator, they are always surprised to hear “What kind?” in return. That brings us to this article, which will show you just how diverse and helpful this type of solution can be. For example, a survey by Aberdeen Group noted a 105% increase in sales among companies that implemented such a solution. And this is just scratching the surface.

What Are The Main Types Of Product Configurators?

Most people familiar with the term imagine a product configurator as a web application that lets them choose the custom build/design of a product. However, you might be surprised to learn how different configurators can be and how they can affect your business processes. Let’s take a look:

• Sales configurators: This type of configurator is geared toward consumers and usually offers them a visualization of the product, along with numerous customization options. Thus, the user modifies the product until they get the version they prefer and can usually then place an order for this custom build. For example, this spares them the need to make multiple trips to the car salon and often lets them effortlessly place an order without getting the sales team involved.

To illustrate, my company recently built a car configurator with a generic SUV. Users had the option to choose from three different performance models (with different price points), along with many accessories and visual options in another menu. Any changes they made were reflected on a 3D model in real time, and users could easily rotate and zoom in on the model.

• Engineering/manufacturing configurators: Manufacturing-focused configurators exist to make the development/production of products faster and more efficient. For example, tools can be built that visualize and provide information about a product before it is even built. It might feature numerous essential and optional components that can be tinkered with and combined in hundreds of ways to get a design.

Speaking about the production process, you can take the same customization approach and simulate every stage of the assembly process, testing changes to the process or equipment involved to find the fastest and most effective flow. One great example of this is a dynamic traction control system implemented recently by Glide-Line in conveyor belts. It offers a wide range of configurability that can be applied at any time during production.

• Custom visualization configurators: Sometimes, businesses need a configurator simply to show off a particular product. For example, it might provide clients with information about the product and its components/operation like a manual or guide. It can also be a potent presentation tool, easily creating an impression stronger than any render or promotional video.

Though this type of solution is quite general in purpose, I got to see its specific strengths when our team built a platform for a virtual hotel. The hotel was not yet constructed, but our software visualized the building and let anyone explore it. It also featured many customization options for design changes to particular rooms before and after they are built. This helped many of the staff, like construction and hospitality workers, prepare for working at the location and decorating it.

How Can A Product Configurator Help Your Organization?

If you choose to integrate a solution like this for your business, you will likely see positive results relatively quickly. However, the particular benefits will vary depending on the configurator type you select:

• Faster lead time.

• Greater customer engagement and satisfaction.

• Improved enterprise automation.

• Shortened development time.

• Helpful aid for employees.

• Additional analytics made available.

Is It Easy To Build A Product Configurator?

Building a product configurator is usually not that different or significantly harder than most software development projects, but there are a few caveats. For example, you will usually need business analysts, a few developers (or more, depending on your scope), some designers, QA engineers and a project manager.

If you plan to integrate a configurator into your company website and/or other systems, it will also be helpful to have someone involved with experience in software engineering and integrations. In fact, development experience in general should be one of the top qualifications to look at when hiring for your project. If you don’t have the right specialists, you can hire them individually or get a full team from a development partner.

If everything works out, you should get a versatile solution that transforms many of your business processes and can be scaled up and expanded over time.

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